Networks Fail to Mention VA Whistle-Blower Silencers Received $100K in Bonuses

During the barely two minutes of coverage they allotted to a House hearing on VA scandal whistle-blowers, ABC, CBS, and NBC on Wednesday morning refused to report that the VA officials who tried to silence their colleagues for reporting wrongdoing within the agency received over $100,000 in bonuses in 2013.

Coverage of the House of Veterans Affairs Committee hearing from Tuesday night totaled 2 minutes and 24 seconds with only 44 seconds of that from NBC’s Today and a scant 26 seconds from ABC’s Good Morning America. [MP3 audio here]

An article from The Washington Times reported that the VA “paid out more than $100,000 in bonuses last year to top executives at facilities that ignored whistle-blower complaints of poor patient care.” Further, the piece noted that “seriously suggest bad behavior is often rewarded.” These bonuses that were handed down to senior VA officials at five facilities under investigation were part of “almost 284,000 bonuses in fiscal 2013, totaling close to $278 million.”

CBS This Morning did initially report on this part of the massive scandal with a full segment on July 4 and led the way Wednesday in time devoted to the hearing with a one-minute-and-14-second news brief just after 8:00 a.m. and included an exchange between the number two official at the Veterans Health Administration, James Tuchschmidt, and Congressman Beto O’Rourke. O’Rourke was mistaken identified in an on-screen graphic during the report as a Texas Republican when, in fact, he is a Democrat.

Today’s 44 seconds of coverage came during a news brief in the 7:00 a.m. hour and Good Morning America’s minuscule 26 seconds (with no sound bites) occurred in the 7:00 a.m. news brief. All three stories did mention that an independent government agency is investigating 67 complaints of retaliation by VA officials against their fellow employees who tried to report wrongdoing.

The day prior, Good Morning America and Today spent a whopping total of six minutes and 40 seconds on an Ohio man raising tens of thousands of dollars on the fundraising website Kickstarter to, wait for it, make potato salad.

As Scott Whitlock of the Media Research Center reported, the coverage from the three major broadcast news networks declined 84 percent from when the scandal initially broke in May to June. The three networks went from a total of 180 minutes of coverage to just 30 minutes between their morning and evening newscasts.

The complete transcript from the July 9 report on Good Morning America is transcribed below.

ABC's Good Morning America

July 9, 2014

7:09 a.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: New This Morning; VA Whistleblower Retaliation; 67 Cases to be Investigated]

DAN HARRIS: Now back home and the V.A. Scandal. The Department is now apologizing to whistle-blowers who endured retaliation allegedly when they complained about patient care and those secret waiting lists. In a late night hearing, lawmakers listened to testimony from VA employees who said they faced disciplinary action after they reported wrongdoing. One worker said he was labeled a rat in front of hundreds of people at a party. An independent agency is now investigating 67 such complaints. 

The full transcript of the July 9 report on CBS This Morning can be found below.

CBS This Morning

July 9, 2014

8:05 a.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: VA Hospital Scandal; Official Apologizes for Whistleblower Retaliation]

NORAH O’DONNELL: And a Veterans Affairs Department executive is apologizing this morning to VA workers who faced retaliation after complaining. 

[ON-SCREEN GRAPHIC: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - “Whistleblowers Describe Culture of Fear at VA,” U.S. News and World Report - “VA Official on Retaliation Claims: ‘I apologize to Everyone Whose Voice Has Been Stifled,’ The Wall Street Journal - “Agency Examines 67 Claims of Retaliation Against VA Whistleblowers,” The Washington Times - “VA Official ‘Sickened’ By Whistleblower Retaliation”]

Investigators are studying 67 cases where VA employees say they were disciplined for pointing out problems. Four VA workers testified at a congressional hearing last night and after hearing their stories, one committee was quick to challenge the VA number two health official. 

JAMES TUCHSCHMIDT: It is our intention, I’m committed in the job that I am now acting in, to try and address these issues.

REPRESENTATIVE BETO O’ROURKE (D-TEXAS): I’m not convinced and I apologize for interrupting. I'm just not convinced that you’re going to do it. And I don’t know you so you can’t take this personally but it’s been reflected in testimony. We’ve heard from almost every representative of the VA. I mean, you can say you're appalled, you can say you’re outraged, you an say you’re deeply disappointed, but that's all been said before. What we need now is, this is what we have done, this is what we're currently doing, this is what we will do and I haven't heard any of that tonight through you, as acting Secretary, to change the culture now and change the responses that we’re getting at these hearings. 

TUCHSCHMIDT:  Message heard. 

O’DONNELL: James Tuchschmidt told the committee he was very disillusioned and sickened that VA employees were silenced.

The complete transcript of the July 9 Today news brief is transcribed below.

NBC's Today

July 9, 2014

7:11 a.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Developing Story; Retaliation Against Whistleblowers; Feds Investigating 67 Claims By VA Employees]

CRAIG MELVIN: A top official at the Veterans Health Administration says he's sorry that the VA employees have suffered retaliation after reporting alleged wrongdoing. Four staffers testified Tuesday in front of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Scott Davis, a program specialist in Atlanta, says after he reported problems that included the deletion of thousands of veterans' health records, he and others were harassed by superiors. 

SCOTT DAVIS: I think that's the problem with VA. A complete lack of accountability and when people know that they can engage in behavior without consequences, something's got to change. 

MELVIN: An independent federal investigative agency is pursuing 67 active complaints of harassment.